In for the winter

Whew. That’s done.

It’s one of the biggest jobs of the year, and it’s done. The oyster seed is in the cooler.

This year, we had twice as much seed as we’ve ever had, and so the job was twice as big. More than twice as big, actually, because it was a terrific growing year in Barnstable Harbor, and what started as about 150 pounds of 10-millimeter oysters turned into some 6,000 pounds of one- to nearly three-inch oysters.

oyster-growth

Those of you following along at home may remember the last really big job we did, which was putting that seed out. We did it in two stages, with 200,000 going out in mid-June and another 100,000, from another source, in early August.

Those 300,000 spent the summer and fall eating and growing, growing and eating. But they have to spend the winter indoors.d

Barnstable Harbor becomes inhospitable to oysters – and to aquaculture – in the winter. Because the area we farm is intertidal, the oysters are out of the water for several hours, twice a day. If temperatures are cold enough to freeze them, and then they get knocked around by an incoming tide, they can die.

Grow-out bags on top of trays

Grow-out bags on top of trays

But then there’s ice. Giant sheets of it often form in the harbor, and they can sweep all your equipment, oysters included, off to Portugal.

When it’s cold, oysters go dormant, living off the stores they laid in during the nutrient-rich warmer months, so they can live in cold water or cold air equally well. So we bring them in. All 300,000 of them.

Staging the bagged seed

Staging the bagged seed

The process starts with transferring the oysters from the grow-out bags – stiff mesh bags about four feet by a foot and a half – into onion bags. The oysters take up much less room in the cooler that way and, when we put them back out in the spring, they can grow in the onion bags until they’re big enough to graduate to open trays.

Here are the steps involved in the transfer:

Unclip the two clips, one at the top of the bag and one at the bottom, that hold it on to the tray it sits on.

Carry the bag to the boat, or the station we’ve set up for pouring and bagging.

Remove the top clip.

Cut off the zip tie that keeps the slide (a piece of PVC pipe that holds the bag closed) on the bag.

Take off the slide.

Pour the oysters into the onion bag (we do this using a concrete footing form that doubles as a kind of funnel).

Cinch the onion bag, cut the drawstring, and tie it tightly closed.

Once that’s done, each bag has to be carried to a staging area, where we pile them all in preparation for bringing them in. We do that 427 times, with bags that weigh between ten and twenty pounds.

When we’ve done all 427 bags, it’s time to bring them in. In previous years, with smaller crops, we’ve done this all in our boat, a 17-foot Carolina Skiff. Because our crop was so much bigger, we knew it would take more than one trip, even in a larger boat. For Day One, we borrowed a 28-foot version to do the 200,000 from June.

Me and about 4500 pounds of oysters.

Me and about 4500 pounds of oysters.

Kevin and I recruited our friend Don to help, and we took the boat out as the water was coming in. The job is easier if you can bring the boat to the oysters, rather than having to bring the oysters to the boat. We floated the boat between the two rows where we’d staged the bags, and loaded them in as we went.

At the dock, we loaded them from the boat to the truck and landscape trailer. At the cooler we unloaded them to the pallets, about 100 bags per. The pallets are then wrapped to keep the stack stable, covered with burlap, and topped with ice. They go in a shipping container, with temperature regulated by a refrigeration unit and snow or ice, periodically added. We borrow cooler space from our friends at Cape Cod Oyster, whose business is so much larger than ours that 300,000 seed is an afterthought for them.

The remaining 100,000, which were substantially smaller since they went in the water six weeks later, Kevin and our occasional helper Sebastien were able to get in our boat. They went in the cooler this morning.

Total, that’s about 6,000 pounds. Each bag lifted from tray to pouring station, from pouring station to staging area, from staging area to boat, from boat to truck, and from truck to pallet. Moving 6,000 pounds five times is a big job.

Although there’s still work to be done in the form of a couple hundred trays that have to come in, too, we always breathe a sigh of relief when the seed is in the cooler. All we can do now is keep our fingers crossed for survival. If all goes as planned, 2017 will be the best year we’ve ever had.

Happy new year!

Happy new year!

This is a dead deer. Don’t look away.

I have a bone to pick with you.

With some of you, at any rate.  Specifically, those of you  who object to articles about killing animals and photos of those animals, killed.

I kill animals. Over the past several years, my husband, Kevin, and I have killed most of the meat we eat. We have raised and slaughtered pigs, turkeys, ducks, and chickens here at home. In the wild, we’ve caught fish and shot deer.

I’ve written about it, and I’ve heard from readers with all varieties of objections. Some of those objections are to the killing of animals, and those I understand. Vegans, you’re entitled to object because you’ve taken a principled stand against killing. I don’t agree with you (obviously), but I respect the principle and will happily engage in a (civil) conversation about animals’ role in our food supply.

It’s you meat-eaters that don’t have a leg to stand on. And neither do you vegetarians, since eggs and milk exist only because the males are eaten (as in milk) or destroyed (as in eggs)

Every time I write about killing, I hear from someone who believes that the death of animals should simply be kept out of sight. Civilized people shouldn’t have to open their newspaper to hunting stories, or their Facebook feed to dead deer pictures.

And boy does that piss me off.

You know what happens when you keep the death of animals out of sight? Those horrifying videos of animals being mistreated at farms and slaughterhouses is what. It is because we want our meat in nice little cubes, unidentifiable as the animal of origin, that we have built a food system that pays insufficient attention to the humane treatment of livestock. That is what we get when we just don’t want to know. This is what we get when we insist on looking away.

We need to stop looking away. And so I am posting this picture of one of the deer I shot on the hunting trip Kevin and I took to Virginia. See that red hole? That’s the exit wound made by a .270 rifle bullet. The shot isn’t perfect – ideally, it would have been a little lower and a little farther back – but the deer dropped where she stood and died in the 30 seconds or so it took me to reach her.

doe16-2I want you to look. And I want you to call the desire to look away by its proper name: cowardice.

Nobody likes to think about the cute furry animal getting shot, but human existence – even vegan existence — is an animal-killing enterprise. We kill them to eat them, sure, but we also kill them when we build cities on their habitat, or we run them over with cars or combines, or we poison them to keep them out of the grain stores.

The best we can do isn’t not killing; it’s killing carefully and judiciously. To insure that’s what’s happening, we all have to look. We have to conquer our squeamishness and face it head-on. And we – and, by ‘we,’ I mean ‘you’ – certainly can’t try and turn that squeamishness into a virtue by asserting it as an elevated sensibility, a delicate and refined sensibility that is offended by blood and death.

If you don’t want to face the death of the animals you eat, you’re not an aesthete, you’re a coward.

So, look. Teach your kids to look. Visit a farm. Meet the animal that will be your pork chop or pot roast. Now that few of us kill for our own larders, maybe a slaughterhouse should be a standard senior-class high school field trip.

Learning to kill the animals I eat has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I don’t enjoy it. But I decided that I wanted to take responsibility for my food, and I made myself learn. Kevin helped me. We learned together, and I couldn’t have done it without him. And, because we learned, we drove home from Virginia yesterday with enough venison to feed us for a year.

We’ll be eating deer that lived excellent deery lives, ending in a death easier than the one they’d have experienced by predation or starvation. By taking methane-producing ruminants out of the system, we’re cutting down on greenhouse gases. By culling an overpopulated herd, we’re upping the chances that the remaining deer will live well, without overrunning their environment.

If you don’t want to look, by all means head to your supermarket for your cubes. Pick up some cupcakes while you’re there. But don’t congratulate yourself on how civilized you are. Civilized means caring about the animals that die for you. Civilized means knowing the provenance of your meat. Civilized means not looking away.

On gun shopping

I bought a rifle.

I bought a rifle because Kevin and I have been hunting deer in states that, unlike Massachusetts, allow it, and a rifle is a much better tool for deer-hunting than a 20-gauge shotgun with a rifled barrel, the only other gun I own.

I should say at the outset that I don’t enjoy killing deer. I do it because I think culling animals that have overrun their environment – feral hogs, Canada geese, whitetail deer – is the most responsible way to eat meat. Last year, Kevin and I brought home over 100 pounds of venison, and I don’t think we’ve bought any beef since (although we do buy the occasional lamb leg). There is immense satisfaction in making a meal from an overpopulated animal we took ourselves.

And, while I don’t enjoy the killing, I take satisfaction, also, in doing it well. That job begins with choosing a gun. Going in, I had no idea how to buy a rifle. Coming out, I have a limited idea. There is a great deal to know about rifles, the vast majority of which I will never know. But it’s possible to know enough to make a choice.

Those of you who know guns will laugh when I tell you just how long it took me to cotton on to the fact that there are models of rifles, and then there are calibers, and they are not to be confused. So, for example, the Remington 700 is a model. .270 Winchester is a caliber. You can buy a Remington 700 that is chambered for .270 Winchester, but you can also buy one chambered for other calibers.

The caliber is the diameter of the bullet, and you’d think it would be straightforward: the larger the number, the larger the ammunition. And sometimes that’s quite clear. A .270 is larger than, say, a .243, and smaller than a .338. But then someone, somewhere, decided to make it harder by throwing in calibers like .30-30 (smaller than a .270) and .30-06 (larger than a .270). Oh, and where, exactly, does 7mm fit in?

This makes it very easy to look like an idiot when you’re gun-shopping. I tried to limit my look-like-an-idiot opportunities by deciding ahead of time which caliber I wanted.

Last fall, when we went to Virginia to hunt on the farm of our friends Gene and Polly, Gene let me try out his rifle – that Remington 700, chambered for .270. I felt comfortable with it, and shot a very nice doe with it.  A .270 is large enough for deer, or even elk, but not large enough for animals like grizzly bears or moose, which I have no plans to hunt. I figured that was the caliber for me.

My doe from last year

My doe from last year

All that was left was to pick among the gazillions of .270 rifles on the market. New ones range from a few hundred dollars to thousands, and there’s also a huge selection of used ones.

A gun is a fine thing to buy used, as it’s a very simple machine that, ordinarily, doesn’t break or even wear very much. If you look online, you’ll find hundreds and hundreds of rifles for sale, all across the country.

But a gun has to feel right, and I wanted to be able to hold it, to bring it up to my shoulder, to look through the scope, before I bought it. This is particularly important to me because I’m a little hard to fit. I have a long neck, and the space between my shoulder and cheek is, consequently, large. A gun with a raised stock (called, as I was to learn, a Monte Carlo stock) is often the best fit, although some standard stocks fit pretty well too. I limited my search to guns I could physically handle, and whose fit I could assess.

There are a couple of small gun shops on Cape Cod, but they have a very limited selection, and few rifles (to be expected, since hunting with them isn’t allowed in our state). So Kevin and I took advantage of a road trip to DC to stop in at a Cabela’s, which had a pretty good range of both used and new rifles.

The main thing I learned, rifle shopping, was that every single .270 rifle out there on the market will do the job I need it to do. I want to shoot a deer, and I want to do it inside 200 yards. The rock-bottom cheapest rifle will do that reliably. So will the top-drawer most expensive. Given that, is seemed to make sense to find a low-end version that fits me well, and buy it. Well, OK then.

Several makers have a low-end version with a good reputation (like the Ruger American), and one Massachusetts company, Savage Arms, is in the business of making lower-priced guns that are of very good quality for the money. The better-known makers, like Remington and Browning, also have a wide range of price points. I picked up a lot of guns, but didn’t find the right one.

When we got home, we took a trip up to Maine to visit the Kittery Trading Post, which has one of the biggest selections of rifles, new and used, that I’ve seen. I went through their inventory, gun by gun, and handled every .270 in my price range.

And I discovered something. It’s not sufficient for the gun to fit. You have to like the gun.

The best fit for me was a Remington 700. It was a demo model, on sale for about $700. It had a Monte Carlo stock, and felt good every time I lifted it to my shoulder. It had a synthetic stock, green and smooth, with patches of black slightly tacky material where you hold it. It was very comfortable to grip, and the synthetic stock and stainless steel barrel made it a practical gun for the dampness that is endemic to Cape Cod.

But I just didn’t like it.

The second-best fit was a Tikka T3. Tikka is the lower-end brand of the Finnish maker Sako, owned by Beretta, and this particular one (which was new) was marked down significantly, to $600. It had a walnut stock, simple lines, and was lighter than the Remington. And I liked it.

Do I get the best fit that I don’t like, or the second-best fit, that I do like?

For me, going out in the woods to kill a deer is a serious and important job. The reason I was buying a rifle in the first place was that I wanted to have the right tool for that job. I want to have a gun I have perfect confidence in. I want it to be adjusted just for me, and I want to practice with it so that I know exactly what to do at 75, 100, or 150 yards. I want the shot that counts, the one taken at a live animal, to be as close to perfect as I can make it.

It’s hard to explain, although I’m betting any hunter reading this understands. I have a feeling that a gun that you like makes a better partner. The aesthetics of the rifle won’t make any difference to how smoothly it loads or how accurately it shoots. But it makes a difference to how you feel when you hold it. When I shoot an animal, I want everything to go right, and I can’t help thinking that liking your gun can help with that.

I bought the Tikka.

My Tikka T3 Lite

My Tikka T3 Lite

It is, to my eyes, a beautiful gun. I haven’t shot it yet, but I’ve looked at it a lot. I’ve picked it up, and run the bolt in and out. I’ve looked through the scope, over and over, to get comfortable with exactly where on my shoulder it nestles and where on the stock my cheek rests.

I like the gun. I like the gun a lot.

Wish me deer.

What camping does to you

Those of you who come here often already know that Kevin has managed, against all odds, to get me camping. A couple months back, we bought what he billed as a ‘tiny house,’ but is really a standard-issue slide-in truck camper. We did a shakedown cruise in the form of a one-night stay at a campground here on the Cape, but the real test wasn’t until last week, when we took it to Acadia National Park for three whole days.

Obligatory Acadia selfie

Obligatory Acadia selfie

Three whole days! Living, basically, out of your truck.

I learned that Acadia is absolutely beautiful. I learned that I miss hiking, which we seldom do on Cape Cod. I learned that whoever invented bicycles with gears deserves the Nobel Prize for Enabling Serious Hill Climbing (they do give one of those, don’t they?).

And I learned that camping seriously lowers your standards.

If ever there was a case that camping wasn’t for me, that’s it, because my standards are perilously low to begin with. My motto in so many areas of life – dressing, home repair, personal hygiene – is “It’s probably good enough.”

This has been the source of some friction in my generally low-friction marriage to Kevin. He’s always wanting to buy the thing that isn’t the cheapest, or build the thing to withstand more than one season, or throw the thing out when I think there’s still plenty of wear left in it (case in point: underpants).

Although, to his credit, Kevin also has a few low standards. He has the most disreputable set of stained, ripped tee-shirts you’ve ever seen. He never, ever calls you back. And he’s not going to win any prizes in Garage Organization.

You might argue (as I have) that this makes us compatible. But it also has the danger of trapping us in a low-standards downward spiral. The road to hell is paved with situations where no one’s there to say, “Hold on! Maybe you shouldn’t be repairing the chimney with insulating foam and a machete.”

We live in a 900-square foot house that bears an uncanny resemblance to a shack. Our trim needs painting. Our landscaping is, well, it actually isn’t. Inside, there are often spiderwebs in the corners. The floor is covered with cork tile we put down as a temporary measure some five years ago. Under these circumstances, lowering our standards could be dangerous.

But camping makes our home seem luxurious! Well-appointed! Pristine!

It starts with a toilet. At home, we have one! And it works. For quite a while, we had one that didn’t, really, but then we renovated our bathroom. (Before you start giving us credit for higher standards, I should tell you that we didn’t renovate it until the tile literally started falling off the wall of the shower. For a while, we held it up with duct tape, but there’s only so long you can make that work.)

Our camper has one, too, but not really. It’s one of those chemical jobs that nobody every uses voluntarily. But one of the ways Kevin won me over to camping was to point out that campgrounds generally have toilets, so you don’t have to use the one in the camper. Until we started camping, I viewed having to leave the house to use the bathroom as a definite non-starter but, somehow, when you’re camping, it’s OK. Even though it means you have to put on either a bra or a sweatshirt, take a flashlight if it’s dark, and share a bathroom with an entire campground’s worth of strangers, it’s OK.

Then there’s the food. My standards there aren’t quite as low as they are in other areas, because I really love to eat. We have a very well-equipped kitchen, and we consistently turn out excellent meals.

In the camper, we have a propane stove with three burners, which you have to light with a match. There is a tiny workspace created by putting a cutting board over the sink, which is small, shallow, and works by pumping a lever up and down. There is a refrigerator, but we don’t use it unless we’re connected to electricity, which we weren’t, so two coolers filled with ice kept cold things cold.

But we brought a grill, of course. On our first night, Kevin smoked a chicken and then grilled corn and asparagus over the remaining coals. Plain corn, buttered. Plain asparagus, with olive oil, salt and pepper. At home, that’s a make-do kind of meal. But serve it when you’re camping, and you start looking for your Michelin star.

Not to mention that we ate it off, not plastic, but Corelle, practically indistinguishable from Spode. The picnic table was pretty dirty, but we had the Sunday New York Times, which includes a Style section printed on heavier-than-normal newsprint (I’ve always wondered why). Who needs linen damask? Naturally there was no dishwasher, but there also wasn’t running water. But we had two – count ‘em, TWO! – buckets, one for wash water, one for rinse. Clean-up was a snap.

For showering, we had two choices. We have one of those black bags with a spigot that you fill with water and leave in the sun, and we hung that on a tree. Unfortunately, the campsite was completely shaded, and the water did little better than ambient temperature, but it was just fine for washing my hair. And, really, when it comes right down to it, how many parts of your body require daily cleaning? I can think of three, and a washcloth is more than adequate.

Our other choice was coin-op showers, about a mile away. Kevin chose that option, although only once. If we had a Who’s Cleaner? contest, it would have been (dirty) neck-and-neck. But it was undoubtedly good enough.

At least that’s what I thought, until the morning we left. As we packed everything up, I started to be a little uneasy about our … ahem … condition. Because we weren’t going straight home. We were fortunate enough to have invitations to stop both for lunch and for dinner on our way.

Lunch was two hours south of Acadia, on the coast of Maine, with our friends Zora and Jonathan. At least, they’re our friends now. When we showed up at their house for lunch, we didn’t know them at all. Zora and I both travel in food circles, and are Facebook friends. When she read that Kevin and I were going to Acadia, she invited us to stop in.

Zora’s idea of “stopping in,” we were to discover, involves a four-course lunch. There was home-cured gravlax with lemon cream cheese. There was a cold minted pea soup, garnished with yogurt and sugar snap pea slices. There was a classic Crab Louis. And there was a wild blueberry buckle, which Zora described as “fruit, loosely held together with cake.”

Zora clearly needs to go camping.

In the three hours or so we spent with Zora and Jonathan (an artist, and the illustrator of many National Geographic bird guides), never once did they seem to be giving us a wide berth, which I considered a triumph of lowered standards. Eventually, we had to drag ourselves away from a series of fascinating conversations with two lovely, interesting people for the embarrassing reason that two other lovely, interesting people had invited us for dinner, two more hours down the coast.

Our plan was to have dinner with Susan and Dennis, overnight in their driveway, and head home the next morning. We had brought way too much food with us, and I had a deboned leg of lamb, spread with a paste of garlic, rosemary, and olive oil, and vacuum sealed for the trip still in the cooler. Susan is a fan of lamb, and when I told her I had it she put it on the menu. Of course, she tarted it up with a little mustard, cooked it beautifully, and made a salad of green beans, olives, and potatoes to go with it. That, and the second fruit dessert of the day – a crumble, with crème fraiche – meant that it was one of the best food days Kevin and I have had in a long time.

We probably needed it, as an antidote to the standard-lowering involved in camping. The next morning, before we left, I got in the shower for the first time in five days.

We climbed The Beehive

We climbed The Beehive

There was one area in which our trip actually raised our standards. Acadia National Park is an extraordinary place. The hikes are interesting and varied, the bicycling hilly but not grueling, the views nothing short of astonishing. One of the reasons we seldom hike on the Cape is that most of the parks look a lot like our backyard – scrubby pine and oak bordering kettle-hole ponds. This trip isn’t going to make us look on local hikes with much more favor. (Although we will try and get out to the National Seashore and Provincetown, where there’s a bit more variety and, of course, a great deal of ocean.)

We came home last Thursday, five days ago, and the camper is still on the truck. That’s partly because Kevin, his standards being what they are, just hasn’t gotten around to taking it off yet. But it’s partly because we’d really like to use it again, maybe even before we need the truck to pull the boat (its primary job, up to now).

Maybe it’s too early to say, but I think I might love camping. I love the tiny house. I love the mobility. I love that we can go anywhere, and see anything, on our own schedule and at reasonable expense.

Low standards, I’ve always loved.

A venturing Fourth

The best way to make a tiny truck camper seem spacious and well-appointed is to spend the weekend on a 23-foot boat. That’s what Kevin and I did over the July 4th weekend, and we came home with a new appreciation of our camper’s amenities.

We also came home happy and smelly, with a cooler full of striped bass.

This is how it went down.

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from an old college friend. I’ve known Peigi for thirty years, but something like twenty-seven of them passed without our seeing or hearing from each other. Then, thanks to the wonders of technology, we discovered that we were both still alive, and living a mere two hours apart. How ‘bout that?

We had lunch a few months back and discovered, among other things, that we both have husbands who introduced us to boating.

Peigi’s husband, Ken, introduced her to boating in spades. They have a 43-foot trawler, which makes our boat, a 23-foot SteigerCraft, look like a bathtub toy. They were planning to take said trawler to Provincetown for the weekend of the 4th, and Peigi wrote to me a few weeks back to ask whether, perchance, our mooring was free.

Our 23-foot bathtub toy

Our 23-foot bathtub toy

We’ve had a mooring in Provincetown Harbor for three or four years, and we always offer it to any friends with boats, since we seldom use it. I had offered it to Peigi, but it turned out that their boat was probably a little too big, and drafted a little too much, for them to be able to use it. They decided to anchor instead.

Which gave Kevin an idea. Since they weren’t using our mooring, why didn’t we use it?

In the four years we’ve had our boat, we’ve spend the odd night on it, but never more than one. The quarters are cramped in the extreme. The cabin consists of a V-berth big enough to accommodate two full-size sleeping people comfortably, but almost nothing besides. Living on the boat means using the berth for storage during the day, and then shifting everything to the pilot house and the deck when we go to bed.

There’s no proper head, a situation we have vast experience handling, mostly with waterfront-accessible public restrooms but with the occasional portable … ahem … solution (I’ve mentioned my low-level obsession with composting toilets and will address this issue in more depth some day, if you can stand the suspense). There are no proper cooking facilities, and we brought along a portable butane burner so we could have hot coffee and scrambled eggs.

We also brought two coolers full of ice. One held a bag of oysters on the way out, and was earmarked for fish on the way back, if we managed to catch any. The other was food and drink.

We had clothes for all kinds of weather, gear for all kinds of fishing, and plenty of wine. And, really, beyond that, what does a person need?

We had planned to go up on Saturday and stay through Tuesday morning, but weather intervened, in the form of winds strong enough for NOAA to issue a Small Craft Advisory.

A Small Craft Advisory means that anyone who was planning to cross Cape Cod Bay in a small craft should seriously rethink the plan. We rethought, and concluded that it was a good idea to sit it out, especially considering that we would be towing our dinghy, a teeny tiny rowboat.

We packed the boat on Saturday, and left Sunday morning.

Once we arrived, we celebrated an uneventful crossing with our very first hot meal on the boat – scrambled-egg sandwiches.

Everything tastes better when you have to jump through hoops to prepare it, and a very ordinary breakfast of eggs on a Kaiser roll was deliciousness itself. It helped, of course, that it was a beautiful day and we were sitting on the deck of our boat, looking out at all of Provincetown.

We met up with Peigi and Ken, strolled around the town, and had a nice dinner. The day went swimmingly – fortunately only figuratively. Finding out that our dinghy was not up to the challenge of a windy harbor meant that we were this close to going literally swimmingly, but we managed to avoid that.

Monday was marked for fishing.

We’ve lived on the Cape for eight years now, and we’ve learned a lot about catching some of the species in some of the places near our house, but we don’t know Provincetown at all. We’ve fished for tuna there a few times, but we’ve never gone out for striped bass.

We may not be able to fish, but we can read, and we’d read that the striped bass bite on the back side of Provincetown was excellent. There seemed to be several ways to catch them, so we brought all the tackle we own with us. Our strategy was to go out, find the boats that looked like they knew what they were doing, and try and figure out what, exactly, they were doing.

Live-lining mackerel is the strategy of choice for this time of year in Barnstable Harbor, and we’d read that it worked well for Ptown, as well. So job one was finding mackerel. We went out of the harbor and around the race, looking for boats jigging for baitfish. We found them, and slowed the boat so we could see what showed up on the fishfinder.

Different fish look different on the fishfinder, and we’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what’s a mackerel and what’s something else. We saw plenty of life, but it didn’t look quite right to us. Still, we dropped a line with a sabiki rig, just to see.

We saw a zillion dolphins, and this is the best picture I got.

We saw a zillion dolphins, and this is the best picture I got.

It's a dolphin, honest!

It’s a dolphin, honest!

We didn’t get mackerel, but Kevin pulled up a couple of sea herring, also used for live-lining. We put them in a bucket and went all the way around the tip of the Cape.

And there, we found the armada. There were literally a hundred boats – at least – drifting with the tide over one particular ledge. It’s a long ledge, but still. It was the most crowded fishing spot I’d ever seen.

We found a space in the line and insinuated ourselves into the scrum. We put out two lines, baited with the herring, and waited.

I was not at all optimistic. I was not marking fish on the fishfinder. And, if even if fish were there, what were the odds? There were hundreds of lines out, with hundreds of herring, what was the chance that a striped bass would decide on one of ours? I wasn’t even manning my rod, which I stuck in a rod holder – I was in the pilothouse, watching the boats around us, worried that we were gaining on our neighbor because we drifted faster than he did.

And then I heard THAT NOISE. The ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ when a fish takes line.

“You’re on!” Kevin said, and I grabbed the rod out of the holder.

A couple minutes later, I landed a very nice 32-inch striped bass. Only then did I realize it hadn’t been my line that had ZZZZZZZZZZZZZed. It had been Kevin’s, but he let me take the fish. There’s a one-fish limit, so I stopped fishing, and we motored out to start a new drift to see if we could use our last herring to get Kevin a fish.

Not only did the next drift not yield a bass, but Kevin lost the herring.

Plan B was mining the tackle box, and he tried casting some soft plastics with weights to no avail. By this time, the armada had dispersed, and different boats were trying different areas. But they all seemed to be using herring.

I went back to the sabiki to see if I couldn’t get another herring or two. I saw all kinds of different-looking life at different depths, and dropped the sabiki down to see if it was something we could live-line (baitfish can’t resist a sabiki, and if the fish are there, you will catch them). It wasn’t, and it wasn’t, and then it was. I got us three more herring.

Kevin put out two lines, and we drifted. Within fifteen minutes, we heard that noise again, but then it stopped. Often, when you have a whole fish as bait, a fish that’s too small to eat it takes a nibble. It’ll run with your line for a while, but you lose it when you tighten the drag. He figured it was a baby fish.

But then it came back, with a vengeance. It took him a while to reel it in – a 42-inch, 25-pound bass.

With our limit in the cooler, we headed back to the harbor.

Kevin and fish

Kevin and fish

We swung by Peigi and Ken’s boat to drop off a filet, and had drinks on their bridge. It gave me a taste of what it’s like, having a boat of size. A proper galley. Not one, but two heads (which are better than one). Air conditioning! And a lovely shaded bridge on which to have drinks with your friends.

Not that I’m dissing our boat. We’ve spent many, many excellent hours on her. I’ve learned to fish on her. She’s taken us to explore Martha’s Vineyard and Woods Hole. We’ve caught almost all the seafood we’ve eaten in the last three years from her deck, literally hundreds of pounds a year. We’ve been able to take friends around to see the sights, or to catch their own fish.

And this year she took us to Provincetown for a wonderful 4th of July weekend.

After we left Peigi and Ken’s boat, we went back to our mooring and cleaned up best we could (you’ve seen those camp showers that are a big black bag with a spigot, as we were invited to a barbecue at the home of our friend Michel, who lives, rather fortuitously, exactly upland from our mooring. We brought Michel the second filet from my fish, as well as the bag of oysters, and enjoyed a lovely party with a great view of the fireworks.

So, yeah, the quarters were cramped. We couldn’t cook, and we couldn’t stay properly clean. Our dinghy is sub-standard, and needs to be replaced. Even making coffee is a huge production which, on Tuesday morning, ended in a French press full of coffee just ready to be plunged getting spilled all over the deck. A production indeed.

But we got a weekend away. We saw friends. We fished. We didn’t check e-mail and we didn’t post on Facebook.

And now, when we take the camper to Acadia in two weeks, it’ll feel like luxury on wheels.